"Call Anita and tell her to turn the lights on," shouted the man over his shoulder as he raced out of a white-columned mansion in a suburb of Louisville into the rain. A simple enough request, it would seem. Only he wasn't taking about your everyday suburban house lights-these were floodlights encircling a helicopter landing field.
John Y. Brown-Kentucky Fried Chicken king now running for governor of Kentucky-and his wife, Phyllis George, were tooling on over 80 miles from Louisville to Lexington bluegrass country and Anita Madden's annual Derby eve Bacchanalia. It is usually referred to, as if all one phrase, as the Famous-Anita-Madden-Party, and in past years a fig leaf has been considered overdressing at this annual tribute to the rich and bored horse-around set.
John Y., as he is always called, and Phyllis George moved through the clouds high above cars that sloshed through heavy rain. They landed at midnight on the Madden's front lawn in a big swoosh, with four police cars, blue lights flashing, ready to whisk them to the party.
Tents are big out here, as in the phrase, "Why, honey, she's having so many people that she just had to tent the whole lawn." Most hostesses make do with coupling together three or four little bitty tents, but Madden's 1,000 or more intimate friends drank, ate and boogied inside just about the largest single tent outside of Ringling Brothers.
In the past, Madden's party has taken on the aura of a Federico Felalike who appeared to have run out of material when she goree leaves apiece, swung from trapezes attached to the circus roof and were guarded by a 6-foot-tall black wrestler in a gold bikini. And there was the year of the male and female nude murals which flashed on the tent side, and the year the six paid streakers raced through the crowd. Then there was the year a guest arrived wearing a chastity belt and another guest, dressed as King Kong followed her around all night asking, "Honey, where's your key?"
This year decorum, sigh, prevailed in silt skirts and spiked heels. Things were positively genteel. There were only three girls, high overhead, dancing in gold cages, wearing roses in more or less strategic places. And, in fact, at midnight most of Madden's guests were still upright.
Around here no one ever has to ask who Anita Madden is, but for the uninitiated, she is married to Preston Madden, whose grandfather was Lextington's fabulous horse breeder John E. Madden. He made his heirs very, very rich, and in the process also bred five Kentucky Derby winners. "I'm still trying for just one," says Madden, a lean man with dark slicked-back hair who answers reporters' questions, no matter how tacky, with bored Southern civility. Asked how many acres he has, Madden drawled, "We round it off to 2,000."
The division of labor is such in the Madden household: "Anita gives the parties; I breed the horses." His wife has blond hair, lots of it, and cleavage, lots of it. In a select, roped-off area of the tent, VIP guests busily embraced each other and Moet & Chandon. Anita Madden moves through in some green number, in tandem with a Dolly Porton looklike who appeared to have run out of material when she got to the top of her gold lame dress. She was Suzy Creamcheese of Las Vegas who, Madden said, "designs all my outfits."
Now there are some bluenoses who are not taken with Anita Madden's style, but one man's tacko is another man's taste.
"These are the real sophisticates over here in Lexington," said John Y. Brown. Phyllis George, former Miss America and former NFL sports celebrity and all of that who has viewed life from Denton, Tex., to Hollywood, said most sincerely to Madden, "This is just the best party in America."
The Browns had just left their own $300-a-couple fund-raiser at "Cottonwood," the Louisville suburban estate of real-estate developer and Brown finance chairman Frank Metts. Gleaming white columsns were wrapped in red, white and blue bunting, the antiques were taken out of the first floor and guards kept the 600 guests from trampling through the wall-to-wall carpeted upstairs. Sandy Metts, the hostess, said she agreed to have the party at her home, "Only because we're moving to a larger place soon."
The party was long on campaign staff and short on celebrities. Phyllis George said, "There didn't seem to be as many celebrities as usual at this year's Derby," and you could say she was right because Cesar Romero was a featured attraction in the Derby parade. Howard Cosell was even considered a sex symbol by the time he arrived in tuxedo and cased the rooms with an air of some tolerance as local women hugged him and took their pictures with him. Cosell, Frank Gifford and Washington's own "former," George Allen, moved from house to tents and back again in a brief stop. All said they were there because Phyllis George was a favourite pal.
Earlier in the day, at Churchill Downs, Cosell, in usual shy fashion, commandeered a table in the sky suites in the enclosed and insular clubhouse area. At the table were Frank Gifford and the Browns and Eddie Arcaro, who was showing people how to read a racing form, when a couple showed up with tickets to the same table. All right, said the waiter. Who doesn't have tickets? No one said anything. So the waiter made them all take out their tickets. And who didn't have tickets? Frank Gifford. His New York fame cut no ice with the waiter, who made him move on.
And Bob Strauss, President Carter's special trade negotiator-hardly an unknown face in Tokyo or Tel Aviv or Washington or New York-was ignored and shoved out of the way trying to get on an elevator at the Galt House Hotel. Self-important Kentucky colonels kept bellowing that the elevator was for colonels only and was stopping only at the third floor ballroom. Three drunks in tuxedos pushed through as Strauss looked down at the message he had just picked up at the lobby. "Now I wonder whatWalter wants?" he said. The note said to call Walter Mondale.
The annual Kentucky Derby gouge was on as Louisville hotel rooms tripled in price, a $5 cab ride on Thursday was elevated to $12,50 on Saturday and watered down mint juleps were twice the ice and twice the price
Such matters were, of course, of no concern to the Lexington rich who looked down their noses at Louisville and played till dawn at the Madden party. One guest there said, "When you're rich and have horses and anything else you want, life can get pretty damned boring."
Asked if marriages last among the Lexington horse set, Preston Madden surveyed his frenzied dancing guests, his face an expressionless mask of boredom. He sighed the deepest of sighs and replied, "Just ours." CAPTION: Picture 1, Anita Madden; Picture 2, Partygoers at Anita Madden's Derby eve bash; Picture 3, Dennis Cole, left with his wife, "Charlie's Angels" actress Jaclyn Smith, and Preston Madden.